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Superintendent Jake Long hosts discussion on MHHS two phase remodel

Mountain Home Public Schools Superintendent Jacob Long hosted his first renovation discussion Tuesday evening to inform community members why the district’s high school needs a $40 million remodel to combat its aging infrastructure.

The discussion, presented to parents, staff, and Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams in Mountain Home High School’s cafeteria, featured an in-depth presentation of Long’s plans for the high school remodel and funding options for the two-phase construction project.

“The school district and the school system over the past 30 years has done, what I feel like, a really good job of keeping up with the exterior and keeping a very appeasing outside structure,” said Dr. Jacob Long during the evening’s discussion. “But it’s at a cost of deteriorating infrastructure on the inside, both in the 1966 buildings, the 1980 structure, and on the bones with that.”

Mountain Home High School has gone under several renovations throughout the years. In 1989, the school’s original 1966 buildings were covered with the high school’s current metal roof, enclosing several sections of the campus that had previously been outside with a metal structure.

Now, over 30 years since its enclosure, the oldest section of the school is starting to show its age. The 1966 section of the campus still features its original plumbing and wiring, forcing the district to do patchwork repairs to keep that section of campus functioning.

A walk through the campus halls reveals sections of the floors and walls that show signs of being jack-hammered out for maintenance before being filled back in again.

The original roof, accessible through the gymnasium, still rests inside the infrastructure while decaying and serves no purpose to the school. Members of Arkansas’s State Facilities Division toured the original structure last fall and said they “had never seen anything like it.”

In its current condition, Long said the district is unable to add AC units, fire sprinklers or other infrastructural needs to the structure.

“This building was designed, this metal structure, whenever I say building, was designed to do exactly what it’s doing and nothing more,” Long said. “So, if you start talking about renovating space underneath this metal structure, or if you start talking about putting AC on top, if you start talking about insulating this, if you start talking about hanging sprinkler systems off of it, then automatically you’re going to be bringing that outside of its engineered code.”

If the district were to go the renovation route over a full remodel via a construction project, Long said the costs would be unfeasible, requiring every portion of the campus to be brought up to newer code.

The construction route would instead allow the district to obtain a new structure without working on the other campus sections.

“Whenever we started to look at the issue here, of maybe a demo underneath the metal structure and renovating, you really start talking about some pretty significant costs,” Long said.

During the school board’s Dec. meeting, Long unveiled a two-phase remodeling plan to see a portion of the campus torn down and rebuilt into a two-story building.

If approved, Phase One would see the front office, three labs, six classrooms, a teacher’s lounge, and an additional pair of classrooms torn down to make way for a new two-story 117,000 square foot building.

The new building would boast:

  • 2,800 feet of administrative space for staff members
  • 32 classrooms
  • Two exterior classrooms
  • New restrooms
  • A 5,000 square foot library
  • A brand-new 12,800 cafeteria
  • A 3,900 square foot kitchen

Under the district’s updated contract with Modus Studio, the architectural firm that drew up the remodeling plans for the high school, the total cost of Phase One would cost $20.9 million.

Phase two of the project would be smaller in scale, knocking down 84,000 square feet of the oldest section of the original 1966 building from the current cafeteria to the library.

That section would be replaced with a new two-story 125,200 square foot structure that would feature:

  • 12 more classrooms
  • Two new labs focusing on electronics and agriculture
  • 4,500 square feet of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps space
  • 13,000 square feet of multipurpose space
  • A 6,200 square foot wrestling gymnasium
  • A 4,200 dance studio
  • Two full locker rooms for basketball and physical education
  • 62 new parking spaces
  • Bomber Court, an 8,800 square foot outside courtyard for students to enjoy

While the contract for Phase Two has not been before the school board, Long estimates the cost to run another $19.58 million, bringing the total cost of the school’s remodeling to roughly $40 million.

“We’re trying to incorporate as much of our academic classroom needs into phase one because we know that if the community does decide, hey, this is a project they want to support, once we get phase one built, we know we’re going to have to displace phase two and yet still be able to have school as well,” Long said.

Funding for the Mountain Home High School overhaul would most likely come from a millage increase. However, the district is weighing several options, including debt refinancing to get the job done and extending the district’s current millage rate, which would net the district $14.5 million in revenue for construction.

The current millage for the Mountain Home School District is set to 32.16 mills, a rate lower than the surrounding school districts and significantly lower than Arkansas’s average of 38.76 mills.

A millage rate is a numerical multiplier attached to the value of a property and is used to calculate the local property taxes. It represents a dollar per thousand of a property’s assessed value. The product of the total taxable value of the property and the millage rate is compiled separately to arrive at the amount of property taxes.

For instance, if a person’s property is valued at $100,000, their property would be assessed at 20% for a total of $20,000. One mill would cost that taxpayer $20 annually in property taxes.

Long said a millage increase of two points would generate $40,167,800 in revenue, fully paying for both construction phases. An increase of 1.75 mills would see $35,189,600 raised, and a higher increase of 2.25 mills would net the district $44,974,700.

Additionally, the district could see 30% of its construction costs covered by the state for new construction.

For example, if $30 million of construction qualified to be covered by the state, the district would receive $9 million toward construction. Mountain Home’s school district currently has $4 million set aside for construction.

Under the current millage rate, Mountain Home Public Schools is paid $7,182 per student each year. A total of $4,323.97 of that money comes from taxpayers in the Mountain Home area. The remaining $2,858.03 is covered by the state.

“About 60% of our per-student funding is coming from the mills that are generated right in Baxter County,” Long said. “And those mills are generated off of the base millage structure, which is 25 and some change. At that point above the 25 URT, the state kicks in the additional $2,858 per student, which brings that total to 39%.”

According to state law, school boards are allowed four options to ask voters for a millage increase throughout the year.

Long stated that the first two options, in Feb. and May, were too close, not allowing for planning and community input. The district, he said, would most likely put the issue before voters in Aug. of this year.

The district’s annual election is still slated for this May.

If passed, Long said that construction would begin quickly, thanks to the school being able to put forward an investment for the work. The work, once started, would be performed with local businesses like Gregory Construction to get the job done.

Long stated the school would remain open during both phases of construction, with students and staff potentially holding class at the districts other campuses if needed.

“The main thing is that the public needs to see the need,” said Steve Rogers, a resident in Mountain Home who took a tour of the facility that evening. “We don’t need to see that we’re going out here with a whole bunch of frills. We really need this.”

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